Tag Archives: writing

2013: The Parting Glass

Now that 2013 is officially in the rearview, I’m not as hung over as I expected to be, but I’ve long known I’m a social drinker and when the party is small, so are my drinks. The party last night was just that—small—and in a way, quite reflective of the year I’ve had.

I don’t know if that’s necessarily a bad thing.

At any rate, I know a lot of my fellow writers are doing a “this is what I did with my writing” or a “this is what I’m going to do with my writing” post for the New Year and this is kind of like that, sort of, in a weird way.

What do you mean by weird, Chris?

Well, in 2013 I didn’t do shit all in regards to my writing. Oh, I wrote things; I just didn’t publish them. I went to some conventions and sold a few copies of my first novel, Necromancer, and met some cool folks out on the road. The awesome Nelson W. Pyles podcasted a few of my short and flash fiction pieces on The Wicked Library, but that was the extent of where my writing went the last 12 months.

Halfway through the year I freaked out about this. Of course, by the time June/July came around, I’d only subbed one piece (which ended up shortlisted and ultimately rejected). After the PMPress Writer’s Retreat at the end of July, I subbed two more pieces, and then another near the end of August. All three were (obviously) rejected by the respective editors. Looking back now, at the start of the new year, I’m more like fuck it. It is what it is. I did write, I just didn’t publish, and it’s about the former, not the latter.

One thing that I did do was get back into reading novels. Before some of you have a conniption over a writer “not reading,” let me explain: for the past several years, I’d read almost exclusively short fiction as the editor for Title Goes Here: and it was awesome; I was able to read and publish writers like Alison Littlewood, Paul Anderson, and Alexis A. Hunter. But it didn’t leave much time for novel reading. Sure, I’d squeeze in a couple here and there (and those were familiar books I’d read before), but not like I used to read. This year, I’m happy to say I put to rest 32 books over the last 12 months. The only book I attempted to read and didn’t finish was The Talisman by King and Straub. Sad to say this is like my third time trying, though I did make it further than any other attempt.

I will finish that book this year.

But, here’s the list of books I did read. You know, for the curious.

01)  Back Roads & Frontal Lobes by Brady Allen – 5/5
02)  They Thirst by Robert McCammon – 5/5
03)  Lucky Man by Michael J Fox – 3/5
04)  Phantoms by Dean Koontz – 4/5
05)  The Talisman by Stephen King & Peter Straub –
06)  Throttle by Stephen King & Joe Hill – 3/5
07)  Quarantined by Joe McKinney – 3/5
08)  The Hunt by Joseph Williams – 4/5
09)  The Rising by Brian Keene – 2/5
10)  Coraline by Neil Gaiman – 3/5
11)  Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill – 4/5
12)  Pavlov’s Dogs by D.L. Snell & Thom Brannan – 3/5
13)  Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar – 3/5
14)  (dis)Comfort Food by Brad Carter – 5/5
15)  Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist – 4/5
16)  Demons, Dolls, and Milkshakes by Nelson W. Pyles – 5/5
17)  A Trail in Blood by J. David Anderson – 5/5
18)  Losing Touch by Christian A. Larsen – 5/5
19)  Draculas by Crouch, Kilborn, Strand, Wilson – 3/5
20)  Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – 4/5
21)  War of the Worlds by HG Wells – 2/5
22)  Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – 4/5
23)  1984 by George Orwell – 4/5
24)  Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – 4/5
25)  I, Robot by Isaac Asimov – 3/5
26)  Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein – 3/5
27)  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick – 3/5
28)  Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – 4/5
29)  The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin – 3/5
30)  Children of Men by PD James – 3/5
31)  Wolf Hunt by Jeff Strand – 3/5
32)  The Hand of God by Tony Acree – 4/5
33)  The Wolf’s Moon by Patrick Jones – 2/5

I started building a reading list for this year a couple weeks ago, which includes several old King books I haven’t read in a decade or so, plus some other things I found on the bookshelves here I hadn’t read. I also received four Jonathan Maberry books for Christmas. They’re on the list, too. I can’t even speak to the number of books I have on my Kindle. I’ll read some of those, too.

I watched many movies in 2013. I can’t say I’m completely proud of this, but it’s a fact, and I do love movies. The number I watched is about double the number of books I read, but this list does include the few movies I saw at the theater and Netflix movies. Here’s that list, too, for the curious folk.

01)  Diary of a Nymphomaniac – 4/5
02)  Apartment 143 – 3/5
03)  Sector 7 – 3/5 (Korean, subtitled)
04)  Trollhunter – 4/5 (Norwegian, subtitled)
05)  The Tall Man – 3/5
06)  Dead Season – 2/5
07)  In the Spider’s Web – 1/5
08)  Good Neighbours – 3/5
09)  The Rig – 2/5
10)  The Lost Tribe – 1/5
11)  Airborne – 3/5
12)  The Innkeepers – 3/5
13)  The Devil Inside – 2/5
14)  Black Death – 3/5
15)  Cashback – 3/5
16)  Dungeons & Dragons: The Book of Vile Darkness – 2/5
17)  Intruders – 3/5
18)  Rango – 3/5
19)  The Day – 2/5
20)  Dead Snow -3/5 (Norwegian, subtitled)
21)  Chernobyl Diaries – 2/5
22)  The Thirst: Blood War – 2/5
23)  Red: Werewolf Hunter -2/5
24)  Cleopatra’s Second Husband – 2/5
25)  Pontypool – 4/5
26)  Total Recall (2012) – 3/5
27)  Jack the Giant Slayer – 3/5
28)  Evil Dead (2013) – 4/5
29)  Byzantium – 3/5
30)  The Lords of Salem – 3/5
31)  Battleship – 2/5
32)  Chronicle -2/5
33)  TMNT (2007, animated) – 3/5
34)  Behind the Candelabra – 4/5
35)  Extinction: The G.M.O. Chronicles – 2/5
36)  The Last Stand – 3/5
37)  Sanctum – 2/5
38)  Hanna – 2/5
39)  Cowboys vs. Aliens – 2/5
40)  Darkwolf – 1/5
41)  Wrath of the Titans – 2/5
42)  Trip to the Moon (1902) – 3/5
43)  The Great Train Robbery (1903) – 3/5
44)  World War Z – 3/5
45)  Frankenstein (1931) – 3/5
46)  The Public Enemy (1931) – 3/5
47)  This is the End – 3/5
48)  The Heat – 3/5
49)  Rear Window – 4/5
50)  His Girl Friday – 3/5
51)  Storage 24 – 2/5
52)  The Frankenstein Theory – 2/5
53)  Oklahoma! – 2/5
54)  Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) – 4/5
55)  Pacific Rim – 2/5
56)  The Wicker Tree – 2/5
57)  Spiders – 2/5
58)  The Conjuring – 3/5
59)  State of Emergency – 3/5
60)  Compliance – 4/5
61)  Shame – 4/5
62)  R.I.P.D. – 3/5
63)  Dredd – 3/5
64)  Infected – 2/5
65)  Stevie – 3/5
66)  Fatso (Norwegian, subtitled) – 4/5
67)  Battledogs – 2/5
68)  Apollo 18 – 3/5
69)  John Dies at the End – 4/5
70)  War of the Dead – 2/5
71)  War of the Worlds (1953) – 2/5
72)  The Sessions – 4/5
73)  Frankenstein (2005) – 3/5
74)  Mimic – 3/5
75)  Children of Men – 4/5
76)  Paranormal Activity 4 – 2/5
77)  The Possession – 2/5
78) War of the Worlds (2005) – 3/5

For the extra curious, you can read my post on how I derive my ratings here. If you don’t care, don’t click.

Overall, 2013 was a decent year for me and I’m happy in the growth I made as a writer. Personally, it was up and down. Probably the best part was finding out that grandfatherhood (BAM! just made up that word) here in a few months (March), while the worst part was fighting against depression and lethargy. I’m used to these spells just not for this long.

Funny truth…

On 12/31, before the drinking started, I did this Facebook “mental age test” and answered the questions honestly (c’mon, you know you fudge those fucking quiz answers to skew the results to whatever you think they should be) and my mental age was 16. Those of you who know me are aware I’m on the far side of 16 x 2. I don’t feel 16; I certainly don’t act 16 (though my wife may disagree with that). I believe it’s a sign I still hold a somewhat romantic and optimistic view of life and people, while masticating the shit sandwich I have every day for lunch.

Strangely, though, I’m okay with that.

Good night and joy be with you all.

Hello, 2014.

Writing/Opinion: Professionalism

I want to spend a minute today to talk about professionalism. If you know me, that probably sounds pretty funny, considering I don’t hesitate to drop the f-bomb into any conversation at a moment’s notice (in fact, there’s several in this blog post). I don’t stop to think about the words coming out of my mouth before I say them. Some people term that verbal diarrhea. And that’s all true; I freely admit to being one of the biggest dicks I know (I also freely admit to being one of the nicest people I know, but my hypocrisy knows no bounds). I’m opinionated and I pretty much disagree with 98% of the rejections I receive. Of course my fucking story was a perfect fit and I have no idea why it wasn’t chosen.

Despite my personality quirks described above, very few publishers or editors I’ve worked with know that about me. And until they read that line above, they probably thought their rejection letters were taken with a smile and a nod and possibly an “Oh, well. Better luck next time, Chris.”

Not so, not really, because if you’re a writer, rejection stings. Sure, eventually you get to that “better luck” point (sometimes it’s in 5 seconds, other times 5 years), but just like every other aspect of life, you’re judged mostly by your visible and public reactions to things. So you got a rejection letter. Not cool. Do you blast back at the editor/publisher with a “Hey, you’re a fucking tool!” or a “You’ll regret this because I’m the next Stephen King!” email? Or do you write back with something nicer, something like, “Would you mind telling me why my story didn’t make the cut?”

If you answered yes, keep reading.

Professionalism seems to be a lost art. And, by the way, professionalism is different than being polite; you can be polite and still be completely unprofessional. Professionalism goes beyond just saying please and thank you, as I’ll illustrate below.

I work in corporate America and it sucks. I’m not going to lie (nor am I going to say that’s a very professional thing to say, as it’s not) but it is a professional environment. There are standards that the company I work for must abide by and therefore, in my job capacity, there are standards that I must abide by. If I don’t abide by these markers set forth by my employer, what happens? My boss gets all pissy with me; I get reprimanded, possibly shit-canned. More than that, in my particular industry (which is heavily regulated), my employer can be fined and prohibited from doing business in certain geographic areas.

Now you’re probably wondering what all that has to do with being a writer. Well, consider those standards as a market’s submission guidelines. This means you better damn well read and follow them. Keep in mind, this is your reaction to those guidelines, not an action you’re taking (Your specific action in this scenario was writing your story, since you don’t have to send it anywhere). I read a lot of these blog posts where it’s “common courtesy” to follow a market’s guidelines. My response? FUCK THAT. It’s not a courtesy; it’s a requirement. By not following those guidelines, you’re being unprofessional. It’s not impolite to ignore a market’s request for 12 pt Courier, it’s fucking unprofessional. I don’t care if you hate Courier with a passion, if it leapt off the page and ate your mother’s face off, if the market wants Courier, it’s CTRL-A, change font, SAVE AS…

During my time editing Title Goes Here:, I’d have those people who wouldn’t read the guidelines and submit some of the most off the wall shit; they were rejected, without being read. And here’s a further little note: I kept a spreadsheet of submissions. Title, author name, and, if a piece was rejected, the reasons why. We weren’t a huge magazine, reading only about 700 subs a period, so I felt it was nice to remember people if they subbed again. But, I also knew if your first submission was some deformed version of our guidelines, too. You could be certain I was looking closely at your new baby, too.

Another thing: make sure your cover letter is in complete sentences, has proper capitalization and grammar, and addresses the things the market wants addressed. Usually that’s story title, word count, sometimes a brief list of publications, and a bio, in case you’re accepted.

Notice what information isn’t asked for up there?

Anyone?

Bueller?

Bueller?

Your name.

But that doesn’t mean don’t sign your email. You have no idea how many cover letters I’d get that looked like this (yes, this is an actual cover letter):

hi, here’s my story. let me know if its good enuff to be published. thanks.

Okay, I get it… we’re on the internet, dealing with something as impersonal as email, but that’s even more reason to make your communications professional. Hopefully, the above example illustrates the difference between polite and professional. I mean, they said hi and thanks, so really, that’s polite enough. But the professionalism is important here because what if the story is on the cusp and it needs some editing, which means working with that author to get the story where it needs to be. I couldn’t imagine any further email communication with this person. First impressions count.

And, lately, I have seen some markets now having “don’t forget to include your name” in their guidelines. This saddens me. It’s unreal that we’re so unprofessional that we need to tell people to sign their fucking name to a letter.

The other things that fall into that professionalism category are, like I stated above, not going back to the publisher/editor after being rejected, especially if your comeback is snark or ignorant in any way. You can be, and usually are, forgiven for asking for feedback, but don’t turn to being dick if A) you don’t like the feedback or B) you’re told no.

Reactions, people. It’s all about your reactions to these situations.

They also extend to personal meetings, though less so. Those personal interactions is where polite really comes into play. I’ve met editors who’ve rejected me, and it’s never, “Hey, you fucker, you rejected me…” it’s always “Hi, nice to finally meet you.” Shake hands, smile, and be personable since it’s unlikely you’re wearing a pinstriped suit, polo, or even khakis and a tie. Speak well, be as well groomed as possible (sometimes, in convention land, this isn’t as easy as it sounds), and try not to be drunk (again, a feat not as easy as it sounds).

Look at it this way: every time you submit a story to a market, you’re applying for a job. You want compensation for your work, which means you need to give that market not only a story worth publishing, but also an author worth representing. The writing “industry” isn’t huge and publishers/editors talk to each other. They listen, they hear your name, and you want them to hear your name in a positive light. You don’t want to be “that writer” who gets the thumbs down chat, the mockery, and placed on that “watch list” because you didn’t provide a professional package.

Think before you submit. Proofread. Remember those lessons from way back when about spelling, grammar, punctuation. Say please and thank you. Sign your name.

Bottom line is that to be taken seriously, then you have to be serious. That extends beyond putting your ass in a chair and writing as best you can. Every contact you have with an editor or publisher should be as clean as possible, professional, and top-notch.

Questions, comments, discussion are always welcome.

Writing: Writing Groups

Oh my goodness, it’s another blog post! Forever and a day after the last one!

I figured I’d throw down something that falls under a different category than “Mr. Brown’s fucking opinion” like, maybe, writing. Considering writing is what I spend 85% of my time away from corporate America doing, I may as well write about writing. I hope that’s not anything like the old adage “Those who can’t do, teach…”

Anyway, I’m moving on now.

I wanted to start some discussion fodder on writing groups.

I’ve been a part of online and offline groups, critique groups and “teaching” groups, but never an actual reading group. By definition, though, I don’t think we can count those, but for the record, I do know several writers who participate in them for the book discussions after. They say it helps with plot and character development, pacing, but more importantly, it puts them in touch with what the average reader thinks of any given book, and therefore it’s a litmus test for their own fiction; they’re able to take the keynotes from those talks and edit their manuscripts to better fit a narrower/broader/whatever type of audience. But still, the primary goals of those groups, unlike a writing group, is to read. A writing group puts its focus on the craft by the majority of the members.

The major thrust of the blog post is whether writing groups are advantageous.

My personal opinion is yes, absolutely.

With that out in the open, I must confess that I belong to four of them. Two are online, two are offline, and each one gets a different amount of my time. The offline groups get 99% of my group time, but that wasn’t always the case.

When I first started to write with the added desire of publication, I didn’t know any other writers. This was way back before my first kid was born, so about 13 years ago. An online group was a perfect fit and I found my way to Zoetrope, ran by the magazine, Zoetrope: All-Story. Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, in turn, founded the magazine. It was pretty much a straight critique group where you had to review five works before you could post one of your own. The writer maintained that ratio to continue putting work up to be reviewed by others. Otherwise, the group was pointless, since its sole purpose was feedback. Sure, they had forums and writing caves that you could invite friends to, but Zoetrope’s main focus was getting critique and feedback. And if your piece was rated high enough, possible publication in the magazine, too. Not a bad deal overall.

I had good experiences in there, lots and lots of good feedback, but even more so, it was an ego boost. To hear other writers say “Hey man, this is pretty good…” and then go into the things they liked and didn’t like was awesome. It’s also where I learned to critique, to give positive remarks along with places of improvement. It helped me to read critically, because that was the sole purpose of being there.

Many reviews I see on Amazon and Goodreads today aren’t critical reviews, but taste reviews. And yes, taste is a valid part of any review, yet it shouldn’t be the entire basis of the review. But that, my friends, is a blog post for another time.

I recently joined Scribophile, recommended to me by Alexis A. Hunter. It works on the same basic principle as Zoetrope did (using points, I believe), but I’m just not active over there. It’s nothing against the site or the people (Alexis is super talented, for one, and super nice) but more due to a lack of time to read and review so and so many other people’s work. Maybe one day, if I’m not killing myself 10 hours a day with corporate America, I can become more active.

I also belong to a couple of offline writing groups. These two groups are vastly different, but that’s fine with me. It’s like genre or style in your fiction, you know? It never hurts to experiment, spread your wings, and see what’s going on.

After my first son was born, I went on a writing hiatus for the first five years of his life. I got my first corporate job and started two weeks before he was born, endured a painful 18 week training program, was never home with him as a baby. It fucking sucked. I’d had three stories published at that time (Threshold and Go Beyond) and a third (Prior Record: A Christmas Tale) scheduled for publication the following year. I’d just started, but I quit anyway.

Then, after having moved up slightly in the corporate arena, I met some writers in the company and we formed a group. We’d meet once a week, and one of us would have prepared a discussion topic to go over with the others. Such topics included character development, plot, dialogue, and all things in between. It was a teaching group, but we’d also trade word and give “ink” when asked. So, it was also part critique, but mostly the teaching. It helped put laser focus back on the writing portion and man, how I’d missed it.

Between my kid’s birth and then, I’d kept a notebook with titles, ideas, a few short stories I’d written, but what I really had was a trunk folder full of all the shit I’d started five and six years prior. I cranked that trunk open and pulled out the musty and dusty pieces.

They sucked, in my opinion, but that didn’t deter me, and I went back to work on them. This was back in 2007 or so. I revised, rewrote, reworked, received feedback, did it all again. And here, five years later, almost all of them have been published now. I have three left from that group (one of which I’m in love with and can’t find it a good home) and the other two, well, we’ll see what happens.

The teaching each other, even though none of us teach, is still a great thing. You learn how other writers approach the craft and you can then pull what’s useful into your palette of tools.

So, for the more curious folks out there, the group meets every other Saturday for two hours. We start with a timed writing prompt, go into our presentation for the day, and do any work/discussion associated with it. The last bit of the meeting we usually share news, publications, work, whatever is on our minds in relation to our writing.

The other group I belong to is quite the opposite of that one. They meet monthly (as of right now, though they’re piloting a bi-monthly meeting as well) and it’s much more of a discussion group. We bring topics, trouble stories, and the conversation just flows from there. Ideas bounce around, flow, and this goes on for several hours and the enthusiasm never wanes. Work is exchanged, critiqued, handed back.

It’s my opinion that talking and working with others writers in these capacities is beyond golden; you can’t put a price tag on surrounding yourself with intelligent, creative people, especially ones who write. Not to mention, writing is a solitary thing to do, and groups bring socialization. I should stress, since they’re all writers, that socialization is far less awkward than say going to a bar or some party.

I guess that makes writing groups priceless, eh?

Who else out there belongs to one? What kind of structure do you guys have? How beneficial do you find it?

I also want to hear from people who don’t belong, or who have and didn’t find them useful. What were the reasons you didn’t like about the ones you tried?

Talk to me, people!

Blog Hop! C. Bryan Brown Edition

The estimable Nelson W. Pyles tagged me to answer some questions about myself and my upcoming work for this thing called Blog Hop. It’s your standard interview type questions, but you know, I don’t mind talking about myself (most of the time), so I’m gonna answer them. Just for you.

Before I do, gotta give props to Nelson for being Nelson. And awesome. If you haven’t checked out his podcast, The Wicked Library, where he does readings of stories authors like Joe R. Lansdale, Jessica McHugh, and yours truly, then you’re doing your ears a disservice. Not to mention your intellect and that part of you that likes to be scared, horrified, and, in some cases, disgusted.

At the end of this thing, I’ll tag a few more writers and you can hop on over there in a week or so and find out what they have to say.

Ready?

No?

Too bad.

Blog Hop: What are you working on right now?

Me: I have so many irons in the fire that it’s hard to pin down any single item, but I think it’s that way with every author. But, in an effort to make the rest of this sound interesting, I’m working on something of a vampire apocalypse novel, which is the first in a (planned) trilogy.

Blog Hop: How does it differ from other works in its genre?

Me: It differs for a few reasons. One, the vampires don’t sparkle, which pulls it out of the “urban fantasy” and “tween” genres/markets, which is where most of the vampire fiction is at the moment. But it also differs because it takes something that’s become a popular trope in those genres and asks the questions “How?” and “Why?” in regards to arriving at a certain point.

Blog Hop: What experiences have influenced you?

Me: When I was ten (or eleven, my memory that far back gets fuzzy) my mother pulled me out of bed to watch the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” because it scared the shit out of her. I watched Freddy drag Tina across the ceiling, blood flying across the room, all while her boyfriend watched helplessly. From that moment on, I was more or less hooked on horror. Plus, my parents never really censored what I read growing up, so I’d pick up the books they were done with, which were invariably horror.

Blog Hop: Why do you write what you do?

Me: Two very simple reasons. 1) Murder is illegal and 2) To explore and better understand my own feelings toward the world I live in. Sorry, readers, but I don’t write for you. I write for me. I attempt publication for you.

Blog Hop: How does your writing process work?

Me: I start with an idea, a theme, or an image of something and build around that. If it’s a short story, I’ll just write. Novels get outlined, character sketches, timelines. As far as the actual writing goes, there’s a 1st draft, then a 2nd draft. After that, the piece is read by “readers” and I do a 3rd draft based on feedback (if any). Then I have a few “writers” whom I trust and they get a final look. I’ll do a 4th edit (if necessary).

Blog Hop: What is the hardest part about writing?

Me: It used to be putting my ass in the chair every day to write. So I stopped trying. Now I devote several hours each day to writing, editing, or reading. It works better for me to focus on one of the three elements of writing instead of all three in a single day. Now my biggest issue is turning off my inner editor during 1st drafts.

Blog Hop: What would you like to try as a writer that you haven’t yet?

Me: Comic books. I’d love to write a comic book. But, as I can’t draw, I have to find someone who enjoys my work and that I can work with for an extended period of time.

Blog Hop: Who are the authors you most admire?

Me: I pretty much admire any author who writes and submits his or her work, who doesn’t quit after being rejected, and isn’t afraid to say, “Yeah, I can still learn from someone,” but then turn around and say, “Hey, I’ve been here before, let me help you out.” Too many authors nowadays get something published (book, short story, whatever) and all of a sudden they’re a gift to you and every person who aspires to write and publish.

I’m going to namedrop here, which I don’t normally do, but if you want to see a writer worth admiring, then you need to meet Jonathan Maberry. Listen to some of his interviews and how he elevates not only the craft, but everyone he works with and talks about.

Blog Hop: Who are new authors to watch out for?

Me: There’s so many. And I do mean, so many. Just a few that I’ve read their work are Alexis A. Hunter, Kenneth W. Cain, Joe Williams, Brad Carter, Craig Hallam, Brady Allen, Chris Larsen, Lydia Peever, Nelson W. Pyles. Some of these people are double and triple threats between the podcasting, doing graphic art, and other things.

Blog Hop: What scares you?

Me: My own death. But beyond that, failing my kids in any capacity. I’m also not a fan of any sort of public speaking.

And there you have it! That concludes my issue of Blog Hop Magazine! Time for me to tag three writers and so I’m going to give you over to one of those “new” authors I mentioned, Alexis A. Hunter. And in a twist, I’m going to also tag two of my “cabin” mates in this year’s Camp NaNo: Rochelle Bradley and Raven Hawk.

Writing: Under the Influence…

We had the kids at Chuck E Cheese today. The food was expensive and not very tasty (hello, cooks, where’s the pizza sauce?), but despite all that, well worth the cost and the time. The boys had a blast running from game to game, shoving their tokens in, and playing without a care. It’s my hope that they remember that carefree feeling more than the games themselves.

A lot of writers talk about finding inspiration or harnessing inspiration or losing inspiration. I kind of touched on that subject in my blog post Inspiration and if you haven’t read that post, that’s fine. You can, of course, and I’d appreciate it, but the gist of it was inspiration is bullshit. We get ideas, we have days where the words just write themselves, but that’s not inspiration. That’s just hard work, man, and having a fucked up brain that never turns itself off. Inspiration is too short lived to be credited with anything we do. Anyway, I’m digressing a bit.

I want my kids to remember feeling carefree because it occurred to me that what many writers really mistake inspiration for is influence. McCammon, King, Wilson, Sanders, Koontz… these writers didn’t inspire me to do what I do, they influenced me with subtle touches over many years of exposure, kind of the same way just growing up did. Of course I learned style and nuance from the writers I read and admired (as well as teachers), and eventually what I learned combined with what I remember from growing up to form my own unique (I hope) writing style.

But that’s why I want my kids to remember the feeling more than anything. My world and my life (and not really the particular things I’ve done) influence me more than anything else.

I don’t remember having cable until I was a teenager. Not because it wasn’t available, but rather my dad wouldn’t pay for it. While I certainly didn’t want for anything, I also didn’t have everything. I remember the not having because most of my friends did. That feeling influences me to spoil my kids way more than I should and is probably good for them.

What else?

The video game revolution happened, man. Fucking Pong, to Atari 2600, Intellivision, Colecovision, Sega, Nintendo, TurboGrafx, Super Nintendo, and then the PlayStation and Xbox, along with all their generations. I can add in that Nintendo is still developing, too, albeit slower than the others. And yes, at some point in my life, I owned them all, including several standup arcade games like Battle Zone.

Somewhere in the timeline the PC blew up, the Internet came along and exploded. I joined AOL to play D&D and paid hundreds of dollars a month for the fucking privilege.  It was on AOL where I met my lovely wife and a few others who I’m friends with on Facebook and still talk to. All because of an online game. For the last 20 years or so, I’ve had the exact same @aol.com email address. Not sure how many people can say that today.

But not only did the gaming industry change, with consoles fighting and clawing for a top dog (Xbox FTW), but so did the home movie and music industries. I watched Betamax and VHS fight like bitches. VHS won, only to be eyefucked by DVDs. Then Bluray and HD-DVD had their little pissing contest and Bluray video is the thing. Now we watch movies on our desktops, laptops, 101 mobile devices, and those movies are streamed straight from what? Oh, the fucking internet! Yeah, and somewhere in there, the Laserdisc tried to kick it, too.

Music is pretty much the same story. Eight tracks and records, to cassettes to CDs to MP3 and MP4s. We no longer walk around with boom boxes (yeah, we all did it) or Walkmans, but iPods and Zunes and iPhones and Galaxies or the Walmart brand machine. We have a thousand songs on a device that’s essentially an electronic Wheat Thin (I’m looking at you, iPod Nano).

I can’t even tell you how many books I have on my Kindle. I can damn near carry a full library with me everywhere I go. How fucking cool is that?

We’ve had the same leaps in automotive technology, military technology, and medical technology. All these advances to better our daily lives, make things a little easier, a bit more accessible.

So yeah, while I didn’t grow up during any great revolutionary social change (civil rights, women’s rights) and while I think I’ll live to see the next great social change where our gay, lesbian, and transgendered friends and family have a fair and equitable shake, it’s really my kids who will undoubtedly be the most affected by that change. And I think it will mold them in the subtle ways different things have molded me.

Want more? Not one, but two space shuttle disasters. I remember watching the Challenger explode on television while in grade school. That was back in 1986 and we were watching, like so many others, to see the teacher Christa McAuliffe make it into space. I never watched another launch again. To this day, I haven’t seen footage of Columbia from 2003. I probably won’t ever watch it.  We had the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and September 11, 2001 is another day where I watched extreme tragedy on live television. I won’t get into the stuff I’ve watched online, but the internet is awash with tragedy. It’s literally at your Googletips. And more is happening each and every day.

So technologically, man, my life has been astounding, and despite the social changes that came before me and those that I hope come soon, we still, by and large, treat each other like shit. And that’s what influences me, more than anything else, as a writer. Living in such a world that’s so easy and connect yet we still treat people unfairly in regards to looks and race, in regards to sexual orientation and religion, in regards to intelligence and income.

This is why I am a speculative writer with slants towards sci-fi, horror, and politics. Because these things have influenced me over the years.

What’s influenced you?

Writing Advice: Take it or Leave it?

So it seems I’m super horrible at maintaining a blog. How do we know this?

Those are the crickets that have been chirping since my end of 2012 post that went up 18 days ago.

I have lots to say, really, I’ve always just been the sort that knows no one wants to hear it. Or, I should say, that’s how I feel about my blog posts. Most people are like, “Who the fuck is this guy? And why does he think we want to read his blog posts?”

Someone, I believe it was Jason Jack Miller **, tweeted (or retweeted, not sure) a bit ago (week, maybe two?) something about authors keeping their writing advice to themselves because no one cared. No one listened. I paused on that for a minute as it about sums up how I feel, too. But the more I sat and thought about it, the more I realized the statement was something of catch-22. Let me explain why, at least in my own personal terms.

Whenever an author I know and respect posts something intended as advice, I do read the post, study it, compare their advice/experiences to my own. I often share these posts via my FB or Twitter feed (or both) so authors can read. There’s a two-fold reason to that: the first being, mainly, exposure for them. Not that I’ve got any great following on either FB or Twitter, but any sharing is better than no sharing; the second reason is that other people very well may find use in the advice given. It’s not my place to judge the usefulness of anything for anyone but myself (and my children for the time being). That post might contain the one nugget some writer needs to boost their confidence, get their writing to the next level, whatever.

Now, what makes this a catch-22 for me is that while I read and share, I almost never follow any of the advice. So, for me, Jason’s statement was hammer/nail/head. I don’t follow other writer’s advice, and if all the people whose advice I did share suddenly stopped, it wouldn’t faze me. I’d probably not even notice. I’ve mentioned that I’ll read their posts, compare what they’re saying to my own experiences, but that’s about it. I don’t implement new ideas into my writing schedule or style. More often than not, I find I’ve already tried their way and it didn’t work, or their way just wouldn’t jive with what I do and how I do it. And, there are also those times, when I read something and I’m like “Who the fuck is this guy? And what thell is he talking about?”

I suspect, and I think this holds true for most writers, that I just need to get better at the way I do things. I’ve published, I’ve been paid; I’ve gotten positive and negative feedback from readers. There’s not much more for me to do, other than more of the same. Maybe win some awards or make a ton of money, both of which would be nice, but aren’t necessary.

All that being said, what does everything think about writers giving advice via blogs and posts, tweets and FB updates? Do you like it? Do you want it to stop? As always, the comments on this post will be open.

** My apologies if this wasn’t Jason Jack Miller’s tweet, but my mind is linking the two. If you know who tweeted it, let me know!

Writing: The Three R’s… Rejection, Reviews, Reactions

Let’s face it… I’m a pussy when it comes to rejection of any sort.

As a working writer, it’s expected—not every piece you write is gold and, even if each piece is, editors are fickle. I know this because I am one, so rejection is par the course. Actually, it’s more like rejection is the rule and acceptance is the exception and while I have a logical mind, I react emotionally. Could be a character flaw, could be my greatest asset; the jury’s still out on the matter.

In that vein, I thought it’d be hard to receive a bad review on Necromancer. After all, my novella, Men of Five, got panned in a single review and that ate me up for a month. I bitched, moaned, complained (all quietly, of course, neither in a public forum nor to the reviewer until this inoffensive blog post) and vowed—fourteen times every five minutes for thirty days straight—to never write another word. But then again, I’m not sure what I expected when I sent it out into the world to be read. You see, my wife, mother of my children, misery-maker in my life, said (and yes, this is a direct quote), “I hate that story.”

Yeah, just goes to show that you can’t please everyone. Having been married now for a dozen years, you’d think that’s a lesson I’d have learned just by living, right? That’s where the whole reacting emotionally comes in.

I know that I can’t please everyone.

I know Necromancer is not going to appeal to every reader.

I know people are going to hate the main character.

I know people are going to hate the ending.

I can go on and on about what people aren’t going to like, but why should I? Some people just aren’t going to like it.

When it was published, my anxiety went through the roof. The worries over what people were going to think and, if readers received the novel poorly, how does that affect future publishing endeavors. I had a mixed bag of thoughts, to be sure.

And then the reviews started coming in. Good reviews, four and five stars, and they produced a happy writer. But that elusive “this book sucks” hadn’t come in yet. I waited and waited, obsessively checking Amazon and Goodreads, looking for it, anticipating it. Who else does this? Am I the only one? I certainly can’t be… but maybe so. I also do it with submissions once a deadline has passed. You know, always looking at my email, even though I didn’t get a new mail notice. Ridiculous, but remember, emotional.

And then it happened. That first bad review came in. I saw the two-star rating and my heart galloped up my throat while my stomach tried to jump ship via my crotch. And then I read the review. And yeah, those feelings intensified and I wanted to double over and cry while vomiting.

That lasted for about five seconds.

Then, I read the review again and then a third time.

I realized the reader had valid points to make on their own experience. And sure, it still sucked to get a two-star review, but who am I to invalidate that just because I wrote the damned thing the reader didn’t enjoy? I rank and critique books, movies, and television every day:

“I didn’t much care for this TV show… ”

“That book by so and so had a real shitty ending… ”

And yeah, I’ve heard that before from more successful authors at numerous conventions/panels I’ve attended. Hearing it from them is great, but you don’t really get what they’re saying until you experience it, until that first bad review smacks you in the head and says, “You ain’t that great.”

So, I got over it right quick. Of course, for me, that means about a day of moping—hey, better than a month—and now, almost a week later, this blog post.

The bottom line is that people are reading it and having an experience (good or bad) and, as a writer, that’s all I can ask for. Thanks to everyone who’s given Necromancer the time of day and then that extra little bit to get out there and review it.

 —-

Note: All the reviews are available either at amazon.com or goodreads.com. I always recommend reading reviews before buying products, as it’s just plan smart. However, when reading reviews of books and/or movies, just beware of spoilers. The reviews for Necromancer have more than their fair share ~ Chris